It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if you’re doing a horror movie and you’re also doing a prequel origin story for that movie’s villain before it’s even released, you better be damn sure you found one hell of a compelling villain. Not that there’s been any precedent set for this sort of thing – it would be a bit like Paramount commissioning a Pamela Voorhees prequel months before. Friday 13 turned out to be a box office hit – but I guess it is now. As you may have heard – you may have even seen the post-credits trailer – Ti West already making a prequel to his slasher movie Xwith A24 giving him the green light to return there with his team and film pearl, a prequel centered around the villain none of us had met at the time. film on pearlin fact, is already sold out, with the 1918 prequel film listed as “coming soon” by A24…probably even this year.
No, it was not a Crusher-style fake trailer to which you were treated as a post-credits final treat for your support X in theatres. It’s a real movie. And Ti West indicated that the world of X may even expand to include a third film, making it a trilogy.
It’s a big swing from West and especially A24, who trusted West’s vision for the world of X so much so that they didn’t even need to see box office receipts before handing him more money to go back in time 61 years and follow up. But having seen X for me, it’s not that difficult to understand their decision-making process. Because with XWest has indeed come up with a compelling villain worthy of more development.
There’s a lot about X it’s not really surprising. True to West’s track record, with horror films including The Devil’s House, Innkeepersand The sacrament in the rear view mirror, X is another horror flick of the “slow burn” variety, simmering with moments of tension and character before exploding into a savage onslaught of violence and, quite honestly, bizarre choices you don’t often find in mainstream genre releases these days. from West X unfolds like a throwback to a time when horror movies were just a little crazier, with the whole experience feeling like a lost movie of a Crusher sequel that we never had. Or, as others have said, even quite like a lost 1970s Tobe Hooper movie – the comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and eaten alive are certainly understandable.
Point being, Ti West X There are a lot of things in it that you probably expected. The most surprising thing about the film, however, has nothing to do with the graphic practical violence we’ve come to expect from West, or the slow-burn approach that has become a hallmark of his work. Nor is it surprising that there is a lot of nudity in the film, both male and female, young and very old; even though some members of my audience didn’t seem to have understood this memo. On the contrary, the most surprising thing about Ti West X, a real “screwed up horror picture” that seems more likely to exist in 1972 than in 2022 is that there’s a strong emotional core to this story about an elderly couple brutally slaughtering stars of the porn movies in the 1970s. As I sat in my local theater waiting for the post-credits teaser to air, someone behind me perfectly described the movie to a friend she was talking to. “It was about an old woman who just wanted to fuck…and then she kills everyone.”
She’s not wrong. That’s pretty much the story of X in a word. But Ti West’s vision for this goofy “hagsploitation” tale is surprisingly tender, with the villains getting more character development than the majority of youngsters who end up becoming their victims. And it’s clear, with West rushing to make a prequel movie centered entirely around Pearl’s debut, that he has a lot of love in his heart for his latest villains.
The slasher maniacs in X are not masked nightmares or dream demons, but rather a seemingly harmless old couple named Pearl and Howard. Pearl is played by mia goth under heavy old age makeup while Howard is played by Stephen Ure with lots of makeup, and West infuses Pearl in particular with a soft enough side that you’re probably finding yourself very interested in seeing Goth go deeper into the character right now. Like Jason Voorhees and Frankenstein’s Monster before her, Pearl is an empathetic newcomer to the pantheon of horror villains, though she quickly proves herself to be a terrifying monster. And that’s because West is making sure, at the very least, that we understand where she’s coming from.
X is a film that ultimately doesn’t seem to be “about” anything – it’s, above all, the “damn horror image” whose meta-consciousness West expresses in the film’s final line – but beneath that surface bloody, it’s actually about quite a few different things. In West’s own words, it’s kind of a love letter to the spirit of independent cinema, and there’s also enough to warrant a post-movie conversation about sex positivity and how society tends to look down on the porn industry the way it looks. about the horror film industry – porn being the ultimate celebration of the human body, horror its ultimate destruction. Corn X also concerns something else. It is a film about youth.
To see her. To lose. And in Pearl’s case, desperately… murderously… wanting him back.
Two stories are told in X which eventually converge into bloody mayhem, the first of which is the story of a group of young friends traveling to a remote location to create their own porn following Debbie does Dallas. This is instead brilliantly juxtaposed with the story of Pearl and Howard, the much older couple who own the land on which the other group of characters are shooting their movie. It’s been established that Howard probably has a habit of renting the place out to single men who don’t meet the kindest of ends, but for this particular story, it’s precisely that juxtaposition of youth and old age that makes advance the film. One of the pornstars filmed next door is Maxine, also played by Mia Goth, and it’s Maxine’s very existence that is ultimately Pearl’s downfall. While Goth’s Maxine is youth and beauty personified, a desirable young woman on the cusp of stardom, Goth’s Pearl is like an amusing mirror version of Maxine, decades old and living a life of sad, lonely solitude that never couldn’t be far from Maxine’s Hollywood dreams.
Simply put, Pearl is what Maxine could very well become.
Even before 20-something Maxine appears on the property, Pearl is haunted by all she has and all she is, the only remaining traces of her past life being the photographs hanging on her wall like ghosts trapped in frames. We understand that Pearl and Howard were once deeply in love, with a whole world of passion, adventure and LIFE ahead of them. Pearl could have become anything and she could have had anything she wanted. Now, however, Pearl is trapped in her own failing and decaying body. Her husband can’t even make love to her anymore, his heart too weak to handle the stress. They are a couple who have been separated by the very sad nature of the aging process, with the love between them being shattered by forces beyond their control. It’s when Pearl meets Maxine that something dormant inside her is awakened. And if you didn’t feel for Pearl before, well, West lets Fleetwood Mac do some of the heavy lifting there.
Shortly after Pearl made up to look more like Maxine, her husband rejecting her advances for sex, the other characters of X are reunited in their makeshift film studio on the property when Kid Cudi‘s Jackson pulls out a guitar and Brittany snowBobby-Lynne starts singing “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. The impromptu concert is accompanied by footage of Pearl wiping off her “Maxine makeup” in the mirror, alone and discouraged in her bedroom. The song choice couldn’t be more perfect right now.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child in my heart rise above?
Can I sail through changing ocean tides?
Can I manage the seasons of my life?
Well I was afraid to change
‘Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children grow up
And I’m getting old too
It’s one of the most tender moments you’ll find in a slasher movie, breaking your heart even though you know Pearl is about to eviscerate that group of hopeful youngsters you’ve learned to love. And it’s a moment that pays off later in the film, when Howard finally agrees to take a chance with his weakened heart and make love to his wife one last time. The characters have already been well established as creepy murderous villains by this point, to be clear, but it’s another tender moment that West is sure to give his due. You won’t find too many movies that allow their aged characters to have sex on screen, horror or otherwise, and it’s a testament to the bold uniqueness of West’s vision that he shows us. the intimate act with the same level of detail that we have watched past sex scenes unfold. If they weren’t murderous maniacs, it would be a very beautiful scene; two longtime lovers have finally connected in a way they haven’t in many, many years. Some may find it humorous, others may find it rude, but there’s still a weird tenderness to it.
I am currently reading Jamie Nash’s book Save the cat! Written for television, and he writes on page 49, “All good films are about characters, truth and emotions.” This statement is an undeniable fact, and Ti West X is a good movie indeed because it cares so much about the characters, the truth and the emotions. We all want to be loved. And we can all relate to getting old. They are universal truths and universal emotions, and X smartly touches them within the confines of what really is, if you don’t want to dive too deep into anything else, a twisted horror movie about twisted people. But it’s because there are these seeds of humanity in the film that X is smarter and more compelling than the average slasher. And that’s also why, I guess, fans of X are going to be very keen to support pearl on time.
Good heroes have flaws and good villains have qualities we can relate to. With Pearl, Ti West and Mia Goth brought a complex and chilling new villain to the screen. Pearl is the sad horror of aging embodied in the most extreme sense of horror film. We’re not just worried about Pearl sneaking up behind us and sticking a pitchfork in our eyeballs.
We are afraid, on a much deeper level, of what awaits us down the road.